Larsen is a Senior Mediator at the Center for the Resolution of Disputes. She is the Co-Founder of Beyond Civility.
To encourage civility and eliminate hurtful discriminatory treatment of our fellow humans, use gentle persuasion to change hearts and minds? Or pass a law to compel behavior?
A recent article in the Times caught my eye. Pictured was an antique guidebook published by Victor Green in 1941, titled “The Negro Motorist Green-Book”, to help African American travelers during the Jim Crow era. At the time, travel on public transportation was segregated and, although pervasive racial discrimination and black poverty limited car ownership, an emerging black middle-class had become car owners. Quoting the writer George Schuyler in 1930, “all Negroes who can do so purchase an automobile as soon as possible in order to be free of discomfort, discrimination, segregation and insult.”
But for blacks, auto travel, both in the north and the south, was perilous. The Green Book, updated each year, listed hotels, restaurants and other businesses (including gas stations) where African Americans would not only be welcome, but also safe.
Victor Green lived in Harlem and worked as a mailman. He modeled his listings after Jewish publishers’ guidebooks for avoiding “restricted” places, where only gentiles could stay. The books were said to have saved lives by steering travelers away from “sundown towns” where blacks and other minorities risked being attacked after dark.
Victor Green died in 1960. A family member published the last version of his book in 1964. And what else happened that year? Passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The Green-Book was no longer needed.